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New project supports wheat conservation and genetic diversity

August 4, 2017
Community farmers in Konya province, Turkey, discuss the importance of on-farm genetic diversity with Beyhan Akin, CIMMYT wheat breeder (far right) during a visit in July. Photo: A.Morgunov/CIMMYT

Community farmers in Konya province, Turkey, discuss the importance of on-farm genetic diversity with Beyhan Akin, CIMMYT wheat breeder (far right) during a visit in July. Photo: A.Morgunov/CIMMYT

ANKARA, Turkey (CIMMYT) – Farmers across Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey are benefiting from a recently launched project that aims to diversify wheat production and strengthen the crop’s resilience to climate change across the three countries.

The Wheat Landraces project was launched in early 2016 in support of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), an agreement ratified by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2001 that aims to achieve food security through the conservation, exchange and sustainable use of the world’s plant genetic resources.

By establishing a global system where farmers, plant breeders and scientists can access and contribute plant genetic materials, the Treaty makes improved, nutritious crops with traits resistant to drought, pests and other stresses easily available to participating countries.

Ensuring the participation of farmers and protection of landraces – traditional, locally-adapted varieties that are rich in diversity – is key to ITPGRFA’s success. Small farms in remote mountain areas of Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey primarily plant wheat landraces due to their ability to provide stable yields and produce high quality food products.

However, farmers in these areas are also extremely vulnerable to climate change effects like changing rainfall patterns, drought and heat. Coupled with an inability to maintain and improve landraces and a growing expansion of modern varieties, these landraces are disappearing at an alarming rate reducing crucially important on-farm wheat diversity.

Stakeholders visit project farms and the Dryland Agricultural Research Institute in Iran during a Wheat Landraces project workshop in July, 2017. Photo: A.Morgunov/CIMMYT

Stakeholders visit project farms and the Dryland Agricultural Research Institute in Iran during a Wheat Landraces project workshop in July, 2017. Photo: A.Morgunov/CIMMYT

The Wheat Landraces project was launched by ITPGRFA to maintain and improve landraces grown across these three countries through participatory farmer evaluation, selection and delivery to target communities through enhanced seed production and promotion. The project, led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Turkey, selects drought and heat tolerant wheat landraces then develops germplasm with these improved traits to share in other communities. It also trains subsistence farmers on how to use new, sustainable methods for cultivating wheat landraces and the importance of maintaining biodiversity.

CIMMYT has led multiple educational workshops on the sustainable development of landrace use and preservation across the project’s three target countries. For example, more than 300 farmers, extension agents and researchers, were trained on maintaining wheat landraces, sustainable agronomic practices and seed production during field days held this June across the three countries. Stakeholder meetings were also held in Turkey and Iran, where farmers, policy makers, representatives from international organizations and extension agents met to assess the project’s progress and future goals.
Field day at an on-farm trial in Herat, Afghanistan, June 2017. Photo: A.Lodin/CIMMYT

Field day at an on-farm trial in Herat, Afghanistan, June 2017. Photo: A.Lodin/CIMMYT

Building awareness across the agricultural community in all three countries is critical to successfully preserve and share the benefits of wheat landrace diversity across Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey as well as with all ITPGRFA participating countries. The project will continue to expand evaluation of landraces and help farming communities adopt improved wheat landraces across the three countries.

Please contact Alexey Morgounov (a.morgounov@cgiar.org) with any questions regarding the Wheat Landraces project.